You may not know it, but there’s an 11th commandment in life.
“Thou shalt not quit.”
Am I right?
So even when a creative business is floundering, or you’re just too dang exhausted or cash-strapped to get excited about it any more, you’ll hang on and on until the business dies in either an explosion of flames or dust, or fades away into a withered skeleton.
How do you know when it’s time to quit your creative business – or at least scale back significantly? When is it okay to let go and give yourself permission to pivot?
I’m back from a 7-week break from my own business, and though I’m not quitting (and never intended to quit), I am quitting some aspects of it, and pivoting my focus.
After spending a lot of time thinking about it, I’ve decided that it’s okay to be a quitter. Because in some cases, it’s simply time.
More on my sabbatical journey in my post about taking a break from your business.
But for now, here are 4 signs that it’s time to quit your creative business (or at least make a change).
1. You’re not making money.
I know, this is obvious, but often hard to accept. The creative business is flooded with people who have a high need for personal satisfaction in their work, and an adherence to the notion that it’s better to do what you love than make money doing work you don’t. However, there’s a point where you’re pedaling in place and it’s better to spend that time either enjoying yourself, finding another job, or developing another business.
Diane of Gilleland of Craftypod is a successful multi-book author, blogger, and former podcaster. She’s long discussed her thoughts about payment for creative endeavors on her blog, and after year of a variety of setbacks, she took a regular job four days a week. Her blog is currently on hiatus while she helps her mother battle some health issues.
She said 2012 and 2013 were rough years for her business, with the loss of some teaching income and a change in the online crafting world. She took a step back to write another book. Unfortunately, craft book writing is less-than-lucrative.
“I planned to use the last of my book money to support me as I made a full-on effort to create that crafty base of income. I went out and pitched a lot of freelance work, while at the same time trying to launch a pattern line. It was a satisfying time creatively, but the income wasn’t substantial enough,” Diane said. “Then my Dad passed away and my Mom needed so much help, so I couldn’t work at all for several months. And that’s what tore it for me – I had no income, mounting debt, and needed a day-job.”
And though she understands there’s only so much money to go around and a lot of crafting hopefuls clamoring for that money, she said she’s “routinely dismayed” by both the pay rate and the timeliness of getting paid.
“Case in point: when I do work for magazines, I’ve been paid as little as $200.00 for a project that might take me 25 hours to complete,” she said. “And when the magazine pays on publication, I might wait seven months between the time I turn in the work and the time I get paid. Magazines are doing their best to stay viable in a tough market – they aren’t out to cheat anyone! Still, there’s no way to be sustainable as a freelancer under those kinds of conditions.”
It’s a mental blow to step back from your business if you’re a one-or-two woman show, though. It’s much harder when you’ve become a large business with employees, expectant customers, and a regular brick-and-mortar presence.
In May 2014 I wrote about Alicia DiRago, the mastermind behind the now-defunct Whimseybox. I was impressed with her entrepreneurial spirit and what seemed to be a successful business model. However, just a few months later, the business failed, and customers didn’t receive the monthly boxes they paid for (though they did eventually receive refunds). DiRago didn’t respond to a request for an interview, but since she clearly had a business plan and investors, the reason the business failed was most likely that it wasn’t making enough money. This was obviously hard on her (she posted a couple of personal posts about her feelings on her blog), which goes to show that no matter how much backing and preparation you have, things can still go south.
And of course – sometimes businesses fail because they tried to grow too fast, with perhaps not enough business planning.
Most recently, By Hand London, a Kickstarter-funded pattern business, scaled back significantly after a couple of years of hard work and feverish growth. Unfortunately, the bills and debts mounted and the business was no longer sustainable. It’s hard not to feel bad for them, but it’s also a huge reminder of the risks of expanding a business too quickly. Their “heavy hearts” post sums up their experience.
2. You’re struggling to handle the social media pressure.
I think many people who operate a creative business have been there. One day you’re chugging along, creating great patterns or designs or art or blog content, and the next day your work is blasted on social media or one of those hate-blog sites.
How thick is your skin?
In November 2014, Kerri Kolby-Smits of the pattern company Amelie and Henri Studio wrote a long post on its Facebook page announcing a change in her business, and describing some disappointment in the process of selling pattern. She wrote, “I have many many many reasons for why I am changing directions; the main reason I am doing this is to take back some sanity that I have lost while the ever enveloping online world has drained me of my will to create.”
When I contacted the company to talk, I was completely floored to find out it was only 5 miles from my home. And that one of the employees there is a friend of mine from my local quilt-guild days.
*insert Disney’s “It’s a Small World” tune here.*
Kerri, a former pastel artist, and her husband Aaron, started the PDF pattern business in 2013 to supplement their income while Aaron finished school. It started out with an enthusiastic bang, and the company developed a huge following.
But while some pattern designers strive to be like teachers – helping customers with their patterns, answering questions, being on-call – that’s just simply not Kerri’s personality.
“I don’t want to teach people how to sew,” she said. “Patterns are not there to teach people how to sew.”
She’s a warm, down-to-earth person. Her husband invited me to their home/business and served me the most amazing coffee ever (really, I’m not kidding). Her current employees love her.
But just don’t ask her to teach you how to sew. Or send her snapshots of works in progress to analyze. She’s too busy sewing and creating…not to mention that she and her husband have two kids…to get overly involved in social media, even with friends.
There are many who have commented online about her brusque approach on different levels. The company’s public relations issues soured the whole PDF pattern business. But at one point she was getting 40 to 50 “hate e-mails” a day for a variety of reasons, she said.
“I would get Bible quotes from people telling me what an awful person I was,” Kerri said, furiously sewing little fabric bows for dresses for their new, ready-to-wear boutique clothing company, Henri Grace Clothing. (the photo of the fabric stash and clothing at the top of this post is from their studio)
Customers started having numerous complaints about Kolby-Smits, even after she switched to selling paper patterns. The allegations are varied and raw. Some may be true. Others may not be, because it’s so easy for some to jump on the hate-bandwagon. The couple said they filed a lawsuit regarding lost income against one person, though I haven’t yet located the filing (and a follow-up question regarding the case hasn’t been answered yet). They even warned me to expect negative comments here because I’m including Amelie and Henri in this article.
I’m sure the real truth behind their problems lies in the gray area between what some are saying online and what Kolby-Smits said to me in person. Because, I agree, there really are two sides to every story.
But whatever the truth, after such a negative social media experience, Kerri removed all the patterns from the Amelie and Henri Studio site. She says she doesn’t have a thick skin for the negative side of the business, but honestly, most of us couldn’t have handled the type of reaction she received. Because if the verbal assault and cyber-bullying she described to me is accurate, it seems the “punishment” didn’t fit the supposed crime.
It’s one thing to complain about or disagree with someone’s business practices. It’s quite another to launch personal attacks.
“It left a scar and I’m really hurt by it,” she said about the social media comments and pressure.
Kerri might sell patterns again but won’t be promoting them on Facebook. She’s enjoying the switch to ready-to-wear, and she and her husband are planning to move to South Carolina later this year to set up a brick-and-mortar boutique.
“I don’t understand why we as women don’t boost ourselves up,” she said, as she and her employees sewed and reviewed sales invoices, and her husband was busily cutting wood for a shelf under a large table. “I wish we could all appreciate the strengths and differences of others, and just love other people.”
3. Your business hit a major stumbling block other than a monetary one.
Maybe one of your products had major issues that prevented people from trusting your company. Maybe your blog was hacked, your hard drive failed, a thief ripped off your patterns and that seriously affected your ability to sell them without a lot of extra work, or a key piece of equipment broke and needs to be replaced for you to continue.
Hitting the wall with your business can make you realize that it’s time to move on.
Around a year ago, the PDF pattern shop Fairytale Frocks and Lollipops was hacked, and thousands of stored PDF patterns by numerous designers were compromised and were being sold on some type of mirror site. Maybe that’s the wrong term (I’m not a savvy web developer type so feel free to correct me), but whatever it’s called, the patterns had been stolen and were being offered elsewhere.
Designers were not happy.
Not only were they not earning money from the stolen patterns, but they were frustrated with site operator Krista Cox for not having the security in place that would have prevented the hack. I pulled my patterns from the site after that hack, and a lot of others did too. I liked Krista and felt for her, but I hadn’t been selling well on the site for awhile so I decided the hack was a sign that I needed to move on.
Some hung in there, but in early 2015 the site was shut down without warning. Pattern designers who had been friends with Cox on Facebook suddenly discovered that they had been unfriended. Others said they hadn’t received payment for patterns for at least the previous month.
I attempted to “re-friend” Cox on Facebook and also sent an email with a request for an interview, but she hasn’t yet responded. The site is closed now, as is the company’s Facebook page.
Of course I don’t know if the breach several months ago was one of the reasons for the eventual closing, but it couldn’t have helped. When a major issue affects your creative business, you’re definitely at an understandable crossroads – quit, or expend a lot of effort to recoup your good name.
4. You’re just not “feeling it” anymore.
Just a few years ago I would have tattooed a hair bow to my backside with the name “Birdsong” and would have worn it with pride. I had a thriving business selling hair bow instructions…I was making a full-time income, and I loved working with ribbon.
But over time, the tutorial sales faded (blogs like mine now, lol, offered many styles for free, and the online sales landscape simply changed). Two attempts to sell a book related to ribbon work failed. But more importantly, I wanted to do more sewing. I loved bows and had fun working with ribbon, but I yearned for a new challenge.
I took a community college class to learn how to better use Illustrator and decided to design knit-fabric sewing patterns. I developed three, and was fully prepared to “back burner” the bows but then, out of the blue, another publisher approached me to write my book, 50 Ribbon Rosettes and Bows to Make. I spent the year on the book – my swan song from bows, really – and afterwards poured my efforts into developing this sewing blog.
But after a year of trying to do everything sewing-and-fiber-and-tutorial-related here, I realized – after taking my own break – that what I really wanted to do was to write articles, design patterns again, and do more personal garment sewing to increase my skills. I realized that I’m not the most creative gal when it comes to developing unique small-project sewing projects (or at least I feel others are a little more creative). And the bows, while always a beloved part of my past, needed to be shelved for new adventures.
It was time to quit a couple of things in order to better develop the aspects of my blog and business that I excel at…that I really love…and that will help me earn an income again.
It’s okay to be a “quitter.” You can quit something, whether it’s your whole business, or just a portion of your business.
(as long as you phase out with grace, take care of your customers, and give notice – know what I mean?)
Over time I’ve quit and changed and pivoted, and I’ve finally decided to accept that it’s normal. If you’re not making money, if you don’t want to deal with the non-stop social media pressure, if you’ve had a setback or if you just don’t feel something anymore, stop doing it and do something else.
Life is too short to hold onto those things we’ve grown out of, even if it hurts.
When have you quit something? How did you know when it was time to quit? And do you have any other suggestions of “signs” for when it’s time to quit or change?
Deanna McCool writes for sewmccool.com. If you enjoyed this post, you’ll enjoy I’ve copied. And I bet you have, too. To make sure you don’t miss a post, please follow SewMcCool by e-mail (the link is at the top of the right-hand column) or join me on BlogLovin’ – the button is just below the e-mail feed box! 🙂